Category Archives: Game of Thrones

The Game Within a Game: Handling Narrative Adaptations in Game of Thrones


Warning: For those up to date with the TV series who haven’t read the books, there are really minor spoilers ahead. Seriously, they’re so minor it’s probably not even worth having this disclaimer. I just write about some trivial differences between the books and TV series that you really won’t give two shits about. THAT’S NOT TO SAY YOU WON’T LIKE WHAT I’VE WRITTEN.

Oh God, please don’t leave.

Good, now that you’ve got past the bold font, I assume I’ll have your attention for the remainder of this: my first ‘No Post on Sundays’ article. It’s hard to say what you can expect to see in my weekly posts in terms of a consistent structure. I know I’ve got a tendency to ramble on if I love a television show enough, so I’ll be limiting myself to just the one overarching topic for each show per week.

And how could I possibly avoid Game of Thrones for my first post?
The Red Reception
In the wake of last week’s episode, it’s really tempting to write about the Red Wedding, but what’s to be written that hasn’t been seen by anyone who’s used the Internet in the past seven days? And honestly, the pain’s still too raw – even for this up-to-date A Song of Ice and Fire reader.

"N-no... not my paycheck".

“N-no… not my paycheck”.

That aside, I’d rather talk about the characters that are still alive (the few of them anyway), because the trend this week is to ask why we should keep watching Game of Thrones. Viewers are becoming attached to underdogs, altruists and well-meaning lords and ladies only to have them slaughtered while a gloating shit giggles from his Iron Throne. When Joff smirks, he’s really responding to the tens of millions people worldwide sitting slack-jawed in front of their screens. Fans aren’t ready for the constant emotional beating that GoT offers, as Twitter will have us believe. Will these affected viewers come back for season four?

The answer is yes, though it’s not as simple as saying, ‘if readers can stick with the novels then viewers can stay with the series’. In the case of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world, it is the TV version that attracts the less involved consumer; using every bit of screen time to show something new, astounding or sexy (I’ll add that the show’s use of sex is NOT superfluous, though boobies do inform quite a few GoT conversations I’ve had). On the other hand, ASOIAF readers sign up for a denser narrative, enduring a Catelyn even more skeptical of her son’s war plans; and finding the answers to such mundane questions as ‘what were all the ingredients in Tyrion’s dinner?’ It’s safe to say that people who read through to the Red Wedding will generally prove to have a heightened investment in the fantasy world of Westeros, against someone who has reached the same point in the television series alone. Something else, then, must motivate the viewer to persist with Game of Thrones.

But I digress. The Red Wedding changes nothing for the single-text TV consumer. The motivation is the show’s hype, and that’s something they’ve always been caught in –more so now than ever. What’s really worth looking at is how ASOIAF fans can watch thirty hours of something they’ve already read about in excruciating detail.
A Tale of Two Texts
There were not many differences between the first entry in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels and the premiere season of Game of Thrones. Aside from adding Ros to the cast (who represents a number of prostitutes featured in the novels) and omitting an intriguing flashback of Ned Stark’s, the TV series remained very faithful to the narrative of its original text. This sat perfectly fine with Martin’s devoted readers; satisfied by the notion that their beloved fantasy could be adapted for the small screen with such flawless presentation. Deviating from the story’s origins at such an early stage would depict HBO as commercial fiends to the readers; distorting the reality of the story world and missing the point of the novel’s sprawling and often confusing narrative.

But everything changed with Ned Stark’s death. His beheading was a pointed statement from the show’s creators, who had held out against audience expectation and killed off the intrepid hero whom newcomers to Martin’s universe had pinned their support to. The brutal outcome of the first season, however, was reached with no debate:

“Commuting Ned’s sentence in the show would have been a betrayal of everything we love about the books. When people ask us, “Did you ever think about keeping Ned alive?” The answer is no.
The Lord of Winterfell had to die.”

– David Benioff, writer/episode director/executive producer/
co-creator of Game of Thrones

Ned Stark's death marked a massive turning point for all viewers - even those who knew it was coming.

Ned Stark’s death marked a massive turning point for all viewers – even those who knew it was coming.

Ned was dead and Martin’s readers now understood the TV series for what it was: a faithful companion piece to the novels. But for the adaptation to truly complement the original, it would need to tap into something the readers desired, but the novels could not deliver. By the end of the first season, ASOIAF readers were assured that the hands capable of tackling such a challenge were in control of Game of Thrones.

Season two saw the series take its first big step away from its parent. Plot points weren’t being omitted, they were being reimagined well within the boundaries of the original story world. No example of this is more pertinent than Arya’s chance encounter and subsequent interactions with Tywin Lannister (who substitutes somewhat for Roose Bolton in the adaptation). The conversations between this pair formed some of my favourite moments of season two before I’d even read the books but in retrospectively examining the scenes after reading A Clash of Kings, I loved them even more. An odd paradox was at play: The TV show was being unfaithful to the plot of the novel but utterly loyal to its story in that if this relationship had been struck between Arya and Tywin in A Clash of Kings, it would look a lot like what we were seeing on-screen.

Certain alterations to the storyline like the one above had the effect of appearing to omit important plot points. My own greatest concern was for Bolton’s absence from the storyline. To this day, I’m not entirely certain why he wasn’t introduced earlier in the series. I can only assume the show’s writers did not want to foreshadow his involvement in the Red Wedding any sooner than was necessarily done during his stay at Harrenhal. Delaying Bolton’s involvement in the plot altogether may have been the only solution to concealing his status as a traitor, as his character is downright creepy. Maybe tomorrow night’s episode will link him to a certain biological relation of his and thus justify his noted absence as being part of a nicely self-contained season arc.

By way of the novels, season three should have seen the first of one of the story’s central characters go off the radar in Theon Greyjoy. His torture scenes with He Who Must Not Be Named Just Yet were probably the show’s most squeamish, but they were some of my favourite sequences from the season. Game of Thrones was no longer just reworking bits of the plot here and there, it was filling out the blanks left by Martin’s books (the fancy word for these narrative gaps is hyperdiegeses. Mmm yeah). We don’t hear from Theon from either the third or the fourth novels in ASOIAF and when he finally does pop up in book five: A Dance With Dragons, he’s experienced an unbelievable amount of change. GoT is making an active audience out of readers, who try to interpret this season’s ‘origins’ sub-plot in relation to what’s become of Theon in the latest ASOIAF novel.

It seems each reimagined plot point tries to tell us something new about how GoT wants to separate itself from – but arguably accompany – the novels. Gendry’s involvement in the Dragonstone story arc doesn’t so much undermine the existence of Edric Storm in the novels as it suggests Gendry shouldn’t take a back seat in the television show plot (though it does help that the single-text consumers now have one less name and face to remember). Robb Stark’s wife, Talisa (experiencing a name change from Jeyne in the novels), who is much more involved in the adaptation’s events leading to the Red Wedding, can potentially be read as a response to fan theories concerning the novel version of herself. Book conspiracies about Robb’s unborn prince or Jeyne’s involvement in plotting the Red Wedding are pretty much rejected by Talisa – kind of, ya know, – getting stabbed in the belly.

Early edits of episode nine showed that Edmure's wedding was not ruined by the Frey/Bolton betrayal but by Talisa Stark's temper after jam was spilled on her dress.

Early edits of episode nine showed that Edmure’s wedding was not ruined by the Frey/Bolton betrayal but by Talisa Stark’s temper after jam was spilled on her dress.

The narrative adjustment with the biggest potential to once more shift the storytelling landscape concerns a trio you’d think unlikely of carrying such a responsibility: Osha, Rickon and Shaggydog (seriously, how hard is it to think of a good name for a direwolf? You’re probably better off naming it Glen or Steve than what Rickon came up with. Well, maybe not, but you get the point). These three separate from Bran, Hodor, Meera and Jojen at the end of A Clash of Kings, which translates to the second season in the TV series. I can think of no other reason for delaying their departure in Game of Thrones than to say we’ll see them again next season. If this is the case, then it’s vastly different from how Theon’s hyperdiegesis (there’s that sexy-ass word again) is treated in the show. We have Theon’s arc in A Dance with Dragons that we can refer to in interpreting what’s happening to him in the adaptation. With Osha, Rickon and Shaggydog, we’re less privileged – having only been told where they’re reportedly located at the end of A Dance with Dragons. Season four could see the first time the show sheds light on something the reader doesn’t know about, and that’s big. All in all, I’ll be pretty disappointed if I’m completely wrong with this prediction, but can there by any other reason why Osha and crew have hung around?

When it comes down to how it handles its characters, Game of Thrones models itself on a juggling act, with new balls being thrown into the mix all the time. When a character dies, it’s as if a ball enchantingly vanishes. If a living character were to go missing for too long, a ball would be dropped – and audiences don’t like their magic shows ruined.
A Feast for Dragons
Game of Thrones is certainly insured against losing viewers for one more season. Season four will cover more of the best moments from Martin’s series, taking its inspiration from Blood and Gold, the second volume of the third book: A Storm of Swords. In a way, season four will be one big stretched-out finale to the seasons that have come before it.

“We always envisioned season three as the place we needed to get. If we made it through season three and we could do season three right then it would be all worthwhile.”
– D.B. Weiss, writer/episode director/executive producer/
co-creator of Game of Thrones

Weiss seems to imply that the first three seasons are self-contained within the Game of Thrones universe in that they document the War of the Five Kings in its entirety. I would extend this idea to include the fourth season. While the war will have fizzled out by then, the second half of A Storm of Swords still retains the war’s aesthetic before everything seems to ‘restart’.

Come book four (A Feast for Crows) and the corresponding fifth season of GoT however, there’s some serious time to be spent at the drawing board. The storylines of A Feast for Crows and the first half of A Dance with Dragons occur simultaneously, with characters split between the two novels. I found Martin’s approach refreshing against the standard linear storytelling he’d been using, and thought he was able to control suspense at various points, with certain characters’ fates remaining ambiguous or unknown. But this is something the Game of Thrones writers must compromise in depicting the events of books four and five. This jumbled sort of storytelling just won’t translate well to TV and it goes against the show’s tendency to keep as many characters in the limelight as possible. I have every bit of faith that the GoT crew will handle the challenge admirably and still find ways to keep many viewers on their toes.

Game of Thrones has shifted A Song of Ice and Fire readers to no longer ask why the TV show continues to reflect the narrative of the novels less and less and instead wonder how it will formidably demonstrate what its medium can offer that the books can’t. The changes to ASOIAF made in GoT don’t present a strictly alternative universe but a faithful version that caters to the parameters of television and the needs of its varied audiences.
Predictions for ‘Mhysa’
Ahead of tomorrow’s season finale, I thought it might be a bit of fun to predict some of the things we might see:

1. ‘Mhysa’ – Valyrian for ‘mother’ – is the title for episode ten. Like the two season finales before it, resolving Daenarys’ season arc will form the basis of this episode.

2. It’s too soon for Joff and Margaery Tyrell’s wedding – we haven’t been introduced to one of its illustrious guests. The first Dornishman to feature prominently in ASOIAF arrives at King’s Landing before the Red Wedding and it’s high time he arrived for the royal matrimony. No sign of him in this promo, but Tyrion at 00:31 sets the scene nicely. This notice suggests I’m wrong.

3. There is however, a sign of Theon at 00:29. Methinks it’s time we found out the identity of his captor.

4. All corners of the realm seem involved in this ep; with Jon Snow, Ygritte, Yara Greyjoy, the King’s small council, the Baratheons, Bran and company, and a few others nabbing spots in the promo. Expect a lot of exposition to set up the next season, as has been the case with previous finales.

That just about wraps up my ramblings, I hope they’ve tickled you senseless. I don’t really want to adorn the start of every one of my future posts with spoiler alerts, so let this be a first and final blanket notice. You’ve been warned.

And now his post is ended.